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A primer for new horror fans: 20 important and influential films every horror fan should see, from the classic age of horror to the best in modern horror

Let’s face it, as horror fans, we’ve heard every negative comment that non-genre fans love to spew at us…

“How can you watch such sick and twisted garbage?” “You actually enjoy seeing a psychopath in a mask killing a bunch of innocent teens?” “You only watch these movies to see naked girls.” “You must be a degenerate for watching these movies.” “I’m praying for your soul.” (I’ve actually been told that last one, believe it or not.)

However, what most people who don’t follow the horror scene fail to realize is, these films are all morality tales at their core. 

Get Out

2017 was a benchmark year for fear, as Horror was not only profitable but also relevant again. With more people  showing up to the theater, horror became sort of mainstream over the last 12 months. Now films like THE SHAPE OF WATER and GET OUT are serious Oscar contenders. And the King of Horror had a massive resurgence — due in no small part to a faithful adaptation of his beloved novel IT, which became both the highest grossing R-rated horror film of all time and highest grossing horror film of all time.

Horror has new fans, hungry to devour the finest the genre has to offer. Which leads to the question…where to start someone on their path of gruesome awesomeness?

Here is a list of films that will aid in a new genre fan’s budding horror education, turning them into certified horror gurus. Class is in session!

1. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Not only is this one of the rare films that is better than its excellent predecessor, it’s also considered one of the greatest sequels of all time. The film itself is timeless, and Elsa Lancaster’s brief but memorable performance as the titular character is iconic in the genre. This is the crown jewel of the Universal Monsters film series.

2. PSYCHO

Alfred Hitchcock’s best film is also considered the granddaddy of the slasher films. Loosely based on the true events of Ed Gein, the film is a cinematic masterpiece in every sense of the word. Anthony Perkins shines as the seemingly meek Norman Bates who as the mercy of his dominerring Mother. It spawned 2 sequels, a Showtime prequel, an unnecessary shot for shot remake and the excellent A&E series BATES MOTEL. Check in. Relax. Take a shower.

3. HALLOWEEN

Forget most of the sequels and the abysmal remake…John Carpenter’s landmark film is required viewing for anyone that dares call themselves a horror or film fan. Made on a shoestring budget with no gore, Halloween is still one of the most terrifying films ever made and it still holds up to this day. The film launched the careers of its director and star Jamie Lee Curtis.

The beauty of the movie is its simplicity…making you think you see The Shape when you really don’t see anything. Carpenter’s score helps amplify the scares, starting with the iconic theme music. HALLOWEEN 2 (1981) and HALLOWEEN:H20 are the best of the sequels, yet still aren’t on the level of the original. Side note on Halloween…there is a 3rd film subtitled SEASON OF THE WITCH, but it has nothing to do with Michael Myers. That should not stop you from seeing it though, as it is an underrated film that is finally getting the love it deserves.

4. FRIDAY THE 13TH

The tale of Mrs. Voorhees and her special boy Jason Voorhees is actually one born out of tragedy. Jason is seen as unstoppable force hellbent on killing everything that comes in his path, but most people forget the true origins of everyone’s favorite hockey masked mama’s boy. While some of the later sequels aren’t up to snuff with the first 4 films and JASON LIVES, the franchise as a whole is highly enjoyable (including the remake and FREDDY VS JASON).

5. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

Freddy Krueger on the other hand is the complete opposite of his Crystal Lake counterpart. Quite simply he is pure evil and when watching the series its easy to see that The Dream Demon truly enjoys what he does to the teens of Springwood. Robert Englund cemented his legacy as a legendary horror icon portraying the infamous Springwood Slasher. The original, DREAM WARRIORS and THE DREAM MASTER are the best films in the franchise and please avoid the abomination known as the remake.

6. THE LOST BOYS

Widely considered by many (myself included) to be the best vampire movie ever made, the film is a rite of passage for any and all horror fans. It’s a film that truly captured lightning in bottle from its witty script, special effects, amazing cast and great soundtrack. Everything about The Lost Boys works, making it one of the most entertaining and satisfying viewing experiences. There are 2 sequels but they are better left alone, as they pale in comparison to this gem.

7. THE EVIL DEAD TRILOGY

This is the rare case where all 3 films in the franchise are better than its predecessor. Bruce Campbell shines as the lovable and clueless hero Ash, who must put a stop to the Deadites. Ash and his friends go to a secluded cabin in the Michigan woods, where they find the Necronomicon and read the passages aloud. All hell breaks loose (literally) and its up to Ash to stop the demons from taking over the world.

The 1st film is deadly serious in tone (yet somehow still funny), while the 2nd film is more of a horrific slapstick comedy, that shows off Campbell’s comedic acting chops. The 3rd film, ARMY OF DARKNESS, is more of an action comedy with horror elements weaved into the plot. It’s also the film that cemented Campbell’s legacy as a horror icon and showed even more of his comedic side. Sam Raimi’s scripts and direction helped to create this fun universe that also includes an equally great remake (watch until after the credits) and the insanely awesome Starz show ASH VS. EVIL DEAD that picks up years later after the events of ARMY. Groovy.

8. CREEPSHOW

One of the best horror anthology films ever made, CREEPSHOW is the most fun you’ll ever have being scared. Stephen King’s script packs a big punch as it is a loving tribute to the old E.C. Comics (Tales from the Crypt,etc) from the 1950s.  George A. Romero’s direction makes the viewer feel like they are in an actual comic book with the different frames and lighting techniques he used to create that illusion. Add Tom Savini’s special effects wizardry and you have a film that is highly beloved by horror fans all over the world. A decent sequel followed and the “3rd movie” is an in name only sequel that actually gave me a migraine due to its stupidity.

9. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON

The greatest werewolf movie ever made period. 2 college students take a trip backpacking through Europe. London is their first and ultimately last stop as they are attacked on the moors by a lycanthrope. One dies, while the other survives the attack, thus continuing the wolf’s bloodline. John Landis’ script and direction help to set the pace of young David Kessler’s (played perfectly by David Naughton) nightmare. Rick Baker’s effects stand the test of time with the ultimate set piece being David’s first metamorphosis into the four legged hound from hell.

It is the gold standard of all transformation scenes and has yet to be topped over 30 years later. The film was awarded the inaugural Academy Award for Makeup Effects when they could no longer ignore the contributions of makeup artists. Michael Jackson was so impressed by the film he hired both Landis and Baker (along with most of the crew of the film) to help bring to life the greatest music video of all time…THRILLER.

10. THE DEVIL’S REJECTS

Rob Zombie’s follow up to his cult favorite HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, is also his masterpiece. The continuing story of the Firefly family is a two-fisted, white knuckle, ass kicking, revenge filled road trip from hell set to a Southern fried 70s classic rock soundtrack. Captain Spaulding, Otis and Baby are on the run from a vengeful lawman hellbent on bringing them down. Its a movie that fires on all cylinders and is one helluva entertaining film.

11. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

The only horror film to win the Oscar for Best Picture and it delivers in spades. Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins shine in Jonathan Demme’s adaption of Thomas Harris’ novel. While MANHUNTER was first, this was the film that put Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lector on the map and made him a horror icon. A decent sequel (HANNIBAL) and equally excellent prequel (RED DRAGON) are a nice three course meal for a night with Dr. Lector.

12. SHAUN OF THE DEAD

A British Rom-Zom-Com that is a devilish blend of horror and comedy. 2 slackers have to save the day when their town is inexplicably the scene of a massive zombie invasion. Arguably one of the best zombie/horror-comedy films ever made and it is a huge fan favorite for all horror fiends.

13. GEORGE A. ROMERO’S DEAD TRILOGY

Speaking of zombies…Romero made his impact in cinema with 3 genre defining films: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD & DAY OF THE DEAD. All 3 films are the legendary and iconic as Romero brings a biting social commentary to each movie. The Godfather of Zombies earned his nickname for these films and they are considered the best of the zombie genre.

14. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS

One of the most original horror films to ever be unleashed. A group of friends, that are all stereotypical horror characters, go for a weekend getaway in well…the cabin in the woods. However, what follows is one of the most unexpected and satisfying films in the horror genre. Packed with the 3 B’s and the right amount of gore and laughs, Joss Whedon helps deliver a truly unique viewing experience.

15. JAWS

Spielberg’s monster hit about a Great White Shark menacing a shore town during the summer is a landmark in both the genre and in film. It put him on the map and helped to create the summer blockbuster (along with Star Wars). Roy Schneider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw shine in this film that is propelled more by what you don’t see.

16. SCREAM

What’s your favorite scary movie? Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson team up to create one of the true gems in the genre. A self aware horror film cleverly disguised as a parody. This film singlehandedly revived the stagnant 90s horror scene and put Dimension Films on the map. Many imitations followed but none were as good as this one. An equally excellent sequel followed, a sucky 3rd film and a decent 4th film to close out the story.

17. THE THING

John Carpenter’s remake of the 1950s sci-fi black and white film is not only one of the best sci-fi/horror films ever made, its also one of the best remakes period. Kurt Russell stars in the film about an alien parasite that can take on the form of its host. One of the best examples of practical effects vs CGI effects as this was followed by a soulless 2011 prequel that made the original film even that much better. Between this cilmnand HALLOWEEN, its no wonder that Carpenter is a horror icon.

18. THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE

Tobe Hooper’s 1974 masterpiece about a group of young adults that pick up the wrong hitchhiker and end up in a cannibalistic house of horrors with Leatherface is the stuff of legend. Proof that you don’t need a huge budget or a ton of gore to make a scary movie, the film was an instant cult classic and over 40 years later is still required viewing.

Now the franchise is a truly a hodge-podge when it comes to follow-up films, so the only ones worth watching are the ghoulishly funny sequel TCM 2, Leatherface:TCM 3, and the 2003 remake. The newly released LEATHERFACE is ok, but has kind of a been there done that type of feeling. You will be tempted to watch THE NEXT GENERATION because it stars Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger, but its to be avoided at all costs…same goes for TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D.

19. CHILD’S PLAY

The idea of a child’s toy magically coming to life should be the heartwarming, feel good, family movie of the year…unless that toy is a Good Guy doll named Chucky. While the series is known for being an over the top horror-comedy, most forget the original is truly dark and scary. Brad Douriff lends his voice to Chucky, the killer Good Guy doll that has the soul of notorious serial killer Charles Lee Ray trapped with in its plastic and rubber confines. The only horror franchise that has remained loyal to it story, the franchise as a whole is one of the most entertaining (and at times silly) in the entire genre.

20. TRICK R’ TREAT

One of the finest horror anthology films that actually gives CREEPSHOW and HALLOWEEN a run for their money…its that good! Interwoven stories of murder, the supernatural and revenge are told seamlessly with little Sam as your guide on this tour of the macabre. The film is a huge cult favorite and has become just as iconic during the month of October as any of Michael Myers outings. A sequel has been in the works for a while, but sadly no news has come since the director’s last film KRAMPUS (which you should also see) was released.

These are just some films to whet your appetite. There are so many gems within the genre that are being discovered everyday. Between midnight screenings, Netflix, old VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray and other means, there is always a way to start your horror education.

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